after Rubens: the strange story of the Samson and Delilah
 
 
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Part of what makes the Samson and Delilah so interesting as a work of art is the extreme disparity in the response it evokes from people - both those who have seen it perhaps just once, as well as scholars who may have studied it for half a lifetime.

Below you will find comments both for and against the attribution, as well as more general observations that visitors to the site have sent in. Please recommend the comments you find most interesting and let us know how you see it too.

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Submitted: 28 March 2006, 7:46:33 PM
  Aliens at the edge of the universe observing us through weak telescopes can see that this isn't by Rubens.

ross miller, london, uk

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Submitted: 18 April 2006, 11:15:05 AM
  From the evidence presented here it certainly raises doubts of authenticity. I would go as far to say that I believe (for what it is worth) that the painting is not by Rubens .

Alan Garfield, Retired manufacturer, London, UK

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Submitted: 26 October 2005, 3:33:39 PM
  As a painter I have been fascinated for more that thirty years by the phenomenon that is Rubens. I admit that I have not read all the books and documents that have been written on Rubens. Rather than spending endless hours reading all these publications, I have concentrated my energy directly on his paintings. I have visited all the museums in the world exhibiting important Rubens paintings, and I have learned that looking at Rubens’ work is infinitely more important than reading all the books written about him and his work.

My own book "Rubens, Prophet of Modern Art", published in 1984, represents a painter’s view on this unique Master. I intended it as an complementary addition to the numerous studies and books written by art historians. Based on this book I also wrote a screenplay for an art film on Rubens (2 x 55 min), which was broadcast by Flemish television (BRTN) in 1991 and has been awarded numerous international prizes.

These years of personal study of the paintings themselves have trained my eye more and more in recognising his authentic brushstroke. No other painter has such a powerful brushstroke and its power is intensified further still by the volcanic energy of his compositions. Time and again, his composition is “well-ordered, painted with an unbridled fantasy” (Frans Baudouin). These characteristics are also omnipresent in his oil-sketches – indeed I believe that close study of the oil-sketches offers a key to the genius of his large format paintings and even, ultimately, to questions of attribution.

A trained eye, acquainted with the oeuvre of the great master can see that the Samson and Delilah is clearly a copy (an accurate copy, mind you) from the original by Rubens. But however accurate or authentic it may seem, what makes Rubens unique and the thing that constitutes his signature, namely his powerful brushstroke, is just not present.

With great precision this study juxtaposes images of details from paintings from the real Rubens and details from this copy. The result of these comparisons is abundantly clear: not only Rubens’ unique brushstroke, but also the ‘skin’ and ‘coating’ of this brushstroke, are absent in the Samson and Delilah. They differ to such an extent with the authentic Rubens that one must be blind – whether purposefully or not – not to discern the differences.

Will experts and connoisseurs change their views after comparing them? I fear not, and the reasons are many. Some of them will base their interpretation – in good faith – on the judgment of their own eye as it has been trained, while others will simply put commercial considerations above the truth.

Harold Van de Perre, Painter, Writer & Filmmaker, Antwerp, Belgium

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Submitted: 19 December 2005, 4:54:43 PM
  You've made your argument very well- not that you have to. The painting is obviously of lower quality. In this case, it looks like the wish to believe has overcome common sense.

Jennifer Emick, Alternative Religion Guide, Fremont, United States

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Submitted: 10 February 2006, 9:36:32 PM
  what seems to be an artistic claim against imitative art here, is more nearly a political argument about sincerity.

Oleg Jankovsky, writer, moskow

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Submitted: 20 December 2005, 1:04:42 AM
  While I am not an avid student of art history, there seems to be something amiss in "Samson and Delilah" beyond the Biblical hero's toes.

The overall lighting effect appears to me to be completely off. Delilah's skin is far too hot for the light portrayed in the painting. Where is that light source coming from?

Elizabeth Baker, Photo Archivist, Burbank, U.S.A.

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Submitted: 19 December 2005, 9:03:59 PM
  You have presented a very strong case and can count me as an unofficial supporter. I am obviously no expert, and like one or two of the other commenters, have never been especially enamored of Rubens' work -- however, in addition to convincing me that at the very least a more aggressive investigation needs to be conducted, you have inspired in me a desire to reexamine my prior disinterest in Rubens' work. The close-up side-by-side comparison seems particularly striking. I, too, would be interested in hearing the National Gallery make a compelling argument supporting their claim and addressing your items directly.

Jenny M, Attorney, SC, USA

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Submitted: 14 December 2005, 10:45:26 AM
  very interesting arguement. It would be interesting to know whether other engravings by Jacob Matham depicted other known works exactly or not. It would seem that a master engraver would not take artistic licence with such a picture when the original work existed for easy comparision. Would he be so foolish... certaintly not. A Rubens?...... most certaintly not.

william biggin, police officer, corner brook newfoundland, canada

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Submitted: 09 January 2006, 7:38:56 PM
  Samson won great battles against the people known as the Philistines several times throughout history. Once upon a time Samson whispered, “If you cut off of my toe, I shall be as weak as any other man." After that, he shook himself to fight one more time the Philistines, but his toe was gone. His strength was gone.

Samson was overcome.

Yet one day, Samson felt the breeze blowing through his hair, which had begun to grow again, and he realized that his incredible strength was returning. Samson stretched his mighty arms around the two pillars of the temple of the Philistines and pulled with all of his great strength, which had returned. The temple crashed around him. Samson died in the destruction along with 3,000 Philistines.

Julia Perez - Torres, film producer, Oacaha, Mexico

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Submitted: 01 November 2005, 1:22:47 PM
  Clearly a copy and an insult to Rubens. A clever piece of subterfuge, a later slick copy of a lost original known to exist through the Matham engraving and Francken image. The composition is loosely based on these 2 images and the imagery crudely poached from other early works by Rubens. Very feeble in execution and fails on all comparisons with genuine early works by Rubens(draughtmanship, brushwork, colour, craquelure, chiarascuro etc).

The National Gallery cannot admit its mistake because those involved in the acquisition are still active. Their efforts to prove the picture is genuine such as the Technical Bulletin, the Apollo Magazine article and the current exhibition are not convincing. This picture will eventually be relegated to the basement, it is just a question of when. The National Gallery buy very well on the whole but, as with every collector and every other museum mistakes happen.

The only interesting question in all this is whether the National Gallery have any private doubts or, more worringly, actually believe this picture is autograph.

Ivan Lindsay, Art Dealer, London, UK

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